In 2014, we shared the experiences of two designers who used a USA-based custom manufacturer to help them launch their first product. We’ve recently received questions from SmallBusiness.com readers looking for information about such small-run manufacturing sources. These questions made us realize that there are a seemingly endless number of terms used to describe outsource manufacturing services. And different industries use various terms to describe similar types of production of a limited quantity of products.
- Job shop
- Custom manufacturing
- Custom production
- Small batch manufacturing
To make things even more confusing, a term like “custom production” can mean both a small batch of products or even the production of “one” item. For instance, the production of just one custom part made with a 3-D printer or other “one-off” manufacturing tool.
No matter what you call it, these manufacturing options can be critical to the launch of a new business, or a new product from an existing business.
Advantages of outsourcing your product to a small batch manufacturer
Experience | Even if the manufacturer has not produced something exactly like what you are ordering, an experienced small batch manufacturer may immediately recognize ways to solve a challenge that you didn’t know was a problem.
Location | Where a product is made can be important to both the maker and customer of a product. #BuyLocal or “Made in the USA” or “a certified product of (…)” can add value to a product. If the supplier is nearby, there are advantages that can have an impact on the costs of shipping, storage and possibly even the fulfillment of orders.
Flexibility | You’ll be amazed by how flexible some manufacturers can be, especially those who have invested in invested in equipment and technology specifically designed to produce customized or personalized items.
Scalability | One of our favorite examples was shared with us by the owner of Death Wish Coffee, the small business that won the 2016 “Small Business, Big Game” contest. The $5 million Superbowl advertisement brought in more publicity, and Death Wish coffee only had a few months to ramp-up production. Not only did the company have to crank up its in-house roasting capacity, but nearby roasters and a wide array of product and packaging suppliers immediately scaled up their capacity to support the upstate New York-based small business.
Access to Equipment | Custom manufacturers will often have access to equipment that makes no sense for you to purchase.
Costs | The unit price of a small run of products will be high—in some cases, incredibly high. However, when launching a product, a market-testing small run can hold your over overall cost of manufacturing to a minimum.
Disadvantages of outsourcing to a small batch manufacturer
Sourcing | Finding the right supplier can be a challenge if you’ve never been through the process.
Trust | Can the provider do what they claim? Check their references.
Scheduling | The flexibility provided by the provider may mean you need to be flexible in your scheduling.
Costs | As noted above, the unit cost can be much higher than anticipated, but the overall cost will likely be lower.
How to find a small batch manufacturer?
While there are many online directories of manufacturers and suppliers, here are two places to start:
ThomasNet.com | Started in 1898 by Harvey Mark Thomas, the Thomas Register of American Manufacturers grew into a 34-volume, 3-section buying guide offering sourcing information on industrial products and services, along with comprehensive specifications and detailed product information from thousands of manufacturers. Now online and re-branded as ThomasNet, the free service features information from manufacturers and suppliers worldwide.
GlobalTrade.net | Founded by Thomas and other manufacturing and supplier directories, GlobalTrade.net provides information about suppliers worldwide.